BWCA Entry Point, Route, and Trip Report Blog
January 26 2020
Number of Permits per Day: 2
Elevation: 1865 feet
Skipper & Portage Lakes - 49
Musings from the Gunflint
August 24, 2008
Skipper and Portage Lakes
Number of Days:
The alarm (watch) goes off at 5:40AM - a quick shower and dress and we take our packs down to the canoe area, we go over to the lodge for a quick breakfast and yes Monnster is good to his word, he has already left as he said he would. We enjoy some conversation with Lin, then Mike, who had a Souris River Quetico 17' waiting and Bette and I soon had it packed and pulled out at 7:50AM, later than we wanted but heck we were enjoying ourselves and the company. We quickly were facing a strong breeze, but just ignored it, it was great to be back in the BWCAW. The portage from Poplar to Skipper is easily found and, as reported long(320 rods) but OK. What I found different was that this area was hard hit by the blowdown, then a prescribed burn, which has created/promoted a lot of new ground growth. So there are many times you cannot see where your foot was going to land, a great set up for a turned ankle. Just going a bit slower seemed to lessen the risk. A surprise was discovered, blueberries were still around, not huge amounts but enough to gather for pancakes. Also raspberries were all around, the prescribed burn has yielded some abundance of unexpected treats. Did I mention that this portage is long - but it ends at a rock outcropping with a wonderful view down Skipper Lake. We double portage and then sit to have a bagel and a drink of water. We load the canoe and shove off up Skipper Lake. Soon we realize the wind is strong and directly into our faces, but we are still energized and ignore it. We pass the lone site on Skipper and it looks like nice one - I put this in my memory bank. As we paddle to the end of Skipper we begin our search for the 22 rod portage into Little Rush, it does not appear and we end up taking a couple of false animal trails. I realize at the stream coming into Skipper that I can see a huge opening at tree height to the West, which must be Little Rush. We are paddling up the stream, it begins to get shallow and we get out of the canoe, hold on and push forward, when another canoe enters the stream from the opposite end, a couple smiles and waves. I ask about the location of the missing portage and the man replies, 'no you haven't missed it, this is it.' I am once again reminded that I get a bit anal in my expectations and evidently a portage doesn't mean a canoe gets shoulder carried; oh well. While Little Rush is small, it still has wind which we choose to ignore once again. It is here that I realize I have forgotten the leeches in my container back on Rockwoods dock. Well TGO, even though I cannot believe my forgetfulness, I am very happy to have my plastic tray of artificial lures along. We find the portage from Little Rush to Rush Lake easily, it is listed at 50 rods, this is the one that has been mentioned by our outfitter as being in bad shape due to beaver activity on Rush Lake. Water has been diverted right down the portage trail which has become a solid bottomed stream in sections and calf sucking muck in others. We again double portage and it really wasn't that bad, especially when you are expecting worse. As we paddle down Rush Lake, we realize the wind is really blowing and the paddling is tough but we are traveling at a pace that allows us to really observe a few of the campsites. Two are occupied, but the one on a point looks like a very nice site. Again, no problem finding the next portage, 10 rods into Banadad Lake. Rocks, mud and a little extra maneuvering with the canoe around some large boulders and we are ready to go. As we took this portage there was a bridge in some disrepair to our right that I suspect must be used for snow shoeing and cross country skiing as it does not enhance the portage and needs a little attention before this winter sets in. We load the canoe, paddle off, and you guessed it, the wind was right there. My bow partner quietly mentions that looking for a site might be a good call; I agree, but recall a site mentioned by Egath as a nice one to look for. The first site we pass is not inviting so we continue around and into a small cove and are 20 feet from a startled beaver who hops off the downed tree and gives his predictable tail splash and is gone. His antics and surprise make us laugh as we come up to the next site on the first island. This one has possibilities but I request that we go to the next island site and a quiet approval is given. We are getting tired but onward we push. As we come to the next island we don't pick up the site (Maps location is approximate) but of course I treat it as gospel. We have nearly circumvented the island when we find a path up a small incline. It is the site and (thanks Egath), it is a keeper. We begin the transfer of packs and camp slowly takes shape. As I go back out on the lake for water, I realize how tired I am. Bette has our steaks rubbed and ready to put into the pan (fire ban) as I go to hang the food pack. I smell the aroma and return to finish cooking the Au Gratin potatoes. After a great meal I enter the tent and begin the pump up of the Big Agnes with the pillow pump. There has to be a better way (and thanks to butthead's suggestion, sounds like there is) it is just too slow when you are tired. I do manage a headlamp toast with my bow partner for a job well done and to celebrate our first night back in the BWCAW. We are soon in the sleeping bag and yes, the wind still can be heard. You just have to love those west to east lakes.
We awaken late, 8:20AM, to sunny skies, and a breeze, we don't care as we are taking a rest day. I think I may be slowing down - hell, who am I kidding, that's been going on for the past 20 years. Well, the sleep was great but there are reminders that the wind and portaging and years are doing a good job to remind me of yesterdays effort. We will explore Banadad today; after a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs, coffee we paddle to the first site as you come into Banadad from Rush, the one that the day before was unappealing; it still was after checking it out. We have them all rated in the map/lake section if interested. As we paddle around we note a couple of moosey looking areas that we will revisit later. I troll as we paddle around and pick up a few smallies and lament my forgotten leeches but the shad rap is doing OK. The lake has a lot of structure to explore for being so narrow, one end is wider with a large island, a decent size arm going north at the west end and yes, there is some fine smallmouth fishing to be found. One can see a rather high but distinct browse line from moose feeding in the winter, I suspect. As the afternoon winds pick up, we realize today we don't need to tolerate them and go back to the site and relax. It has nice views and a pleasant place to call home, and we enjoy reading outside under a treed canopy. A couple paddled by coming from the portage out of Sebeka Lake, but they were too far to make contact with; they would be the last people seen for 3 days. Bette has cooked another great dinner. She has a small container of spices which we like that add a nice dimension to packaged meals and only weighs ounces. We realize, as the end of our day comes that the wind is gone. We both start thinking where to go tomorrow.
It is our last morning with with real eggs, bacon, coffee, hot chocolate for Bette. This is the first time Bette has gone with one stove. On trips at home we use the Coleman dual Exponent. We are a work in progress as far as lessening weight from our portaging load. While I will never become a single portager we have come this year over 14lbs. lighter than last year by basically eliminating items; this is difficult as we use full outfitting. Much of our personal equipment is lighter than what we rent. We look forward to my bow partners eventual retirement so we may have the time to drive out to the BWCAW. Back to breakfast - Bette comments that it is really the only meal where the second burner is a big help. Once eaten, I get the dishes washed. As I return Bette mentions she likes this spot and wouldn't mind an extra day. Sounds good as I am still sore from the trip in but don't admit it. As Bette puts the tent back in order, I grab the bait caster and throw out a Blade Dancer chartreuse shiner. After working it a few different ways with no results I put on some Walleye oil scent, next cast BANG, a good fight and a 27" northern is landed. It has taken the artificial surprisingly deep so I make this our choice for dinner. Others are caught, right off the camp site shore with the lure being worked on the bottom. When I clean and fillet the Northern I check the stomach and this ones is empty - it was hungry and on the prowl no doubt. Later in the canoe, I work the same area but with the lure going out into the lake and catch nothing, makes me wonder about the impact of lure direction. Fishing always intrigues me as there are so many variables to observe and consider. The morning passes far too quickly, and we decide to stop for lunch on an unoccupied site,then realizing we are the only ones on Banadad Lake. The single site on the Northern arm is small, but nice, with a level tent pad spot for a three person tent, a good fire grate location and a decent landing area. Privacy and coziness prevail and a very moosey looking area at the end of the arm as well. As we leave this site after finishing lunch I look for Mr. Big, casting a Mepps Muskie Killer about, but, no takers. Northern's are in fair abundance, ranging from 15" to 31". Smallmouth are a bit harder to locate but the ones caught are healthy, robust fighters with bellies. Later as we cook the Northern for dinner along with a Veggie medley, we both comment how good fresh fried fish is. We eat it all, unwilling to admit there was enough for 3 hearty appetites. At dinner, we discuss the fact that we are finding base camping a more attractive way to travel, as we are taking a lot of time getting to know a particular lake in detail, as we rest and explore. Too full for desert, we instead decide to quietly paddle along the shore to a moosey-looking area down the northern arm and wait in the quiet of dusk. As we slowly work down the right side ducking branches Bette extends her left hand (a silent sign that means stop). I look over her shoulder and crossing right to left is a bull moose, roughly 100 yards away. I don't believe it was aware of our presence; it was our first BWCA moose and it was majestic! As we sat with grins, I caught more movement in the water going left to right this time and low in the water. I tell my bow partner to paddle quickly, and several strong strokes are made. Just as the canoe is gaining speed, the bow is still; she has stopped paddling. "That is a bear" she whispers and then adds, "We are close enough". My whispered plea of "I want to get a picture" is ignored and we watch the bear complete his swim, walk up the bank, glance back as to say "where did you come from" and disappear. I ask Bette how big did she think it was, she replies "bigger than you". I agree; wet and all, it was a decent sized bear. I had taken two pictures but with dusk it was too dark for them to show anything,unfortunately. So our foray to this moosey-looking area has paid off with unforgettable memories. We paddle back to camp in near darkness realizing what a special day we were just given. A couple of toasts to honor our observed wild guests and off to the tent it is. Sleep comes easily, it was a full day.
Mostly cloudy, windy, a threat of rain looms, we have breakfast and decide to day trip to Sebeka Lake. We pack fishing,rain gear and lunch. We paddle off, find the portage easily and soon realize that this a more demanding portage than most. It has a lot of stepping over boulders, turns etc. It is slow going but we are in no rush, we get there. Sebeka Lake is quite nice, a beautiful view is had from the end of the portage,as we put in and begin our paddling. Although small and without campsites we want to view it closely. We are of course heading right into the wind. I am trolling and we pick up a number of 15" - 21" Northerns. As we pass a cove I find an entrance into a yet smaller unnamed body of water, that will be a story for another time. Things certainly look a bit more accessible on Flash Earth, that is for sure. Sebeka, as I have indicated has no campsites, yet I see a couple of areas that look very inviting. Yes, I guess I am questioning the Forest Service as to why wouldn't this lake, as well as a few others in this area be appointed one site each? Keep the number of permits the same but spread them with sites on lakes that have no campsites? I know this thought needs to be stored in the part of the brain that realizes "greater minds than yours have figured this out". The lake does have a wilderness feel to it and that may be the answer to my question. We enjoy our paddle and fishing, only Northerns and a few perch are caught. As a light rain begins, we paddle back, finally wind assisted, to the portage to Banadad where a large pine tree keeps us out of the rain for the moment. I make a temporary cover and we have lunch, peanut butter and jelly and our own gorp. We both remark how pretty this area is even with cloudy/rainy skies. Lunch and rest are completed, we begin our trek back. While this portage is tougher it just requires time to negotiate the turns and rocks for solid foot placement. As we set the canoe back on Banadad, we paddle around in the light shower checking out a few areas of interest and decide to head back to Skipper Lake in the morning, spend the night and take the long portage Friday morning. Wednesday night dinner was Spaghetti with meat sauce and boy it hits the spot. I love pasta and tonight's is quite good. After clean up and organizing for a quick departure in the morning, Bette says she is going down by the water and check out a moosey looking area. Within minutes I hear her hiss to me, I quickly move down to her side and pick up some movement, it is a cow moose that has come out and is feeding. After a couple of minutes it slowly goes back into the woods. This has been a great lake and perfect campsite. We have seen a beaver close up, the resident Loon, 2 Moose, a bear and only 2 people in the distance. We celebrate our final night on Banadad, I have my favorite cigar with my bourbon, Bette an extra glass of a new found favorite box Chardonnay, "Hardy". About 11:30PM, I awaken to thunder, big thunder, Bette remarks how she cannot believe how I have slept thru the last 30 minutes. While the lightening is frequent, what I do note is the growing intensity of the rain. It begins to downpour as hard as I can ever remember. There is no way with the noise that the rain makes hitting the tent that anyone could fall back to sleep. An hour passes, I know the ground, no matter how dry cannot absorb rain at this rate. About 15 minutes later, I put my hand on the floor and just as I feared, the floor was floating wherever there wasn't something on top it. I felt it was just a matter of time until things would get wet and very uncomfortable. But everything stayed dry, the tub floor held the water out completely. I have a new found respect for Mountain Alps Tents. As the rain let up we fell back to sleep. Mike our outfitter told us later that 2.5 inches of rain fell in less than 3 hours from this late night storm. When I praised his choice of tent, he smiled.
We awoke later than we hoped due to the storm. The morning was gray, foggy and humid and as we emerged it was apparent we would be packing wet. Chores seem to go more slowly when you pack in a manner you dislike. Equipment was heavier, canoe seats wet and our early start slipped away. As we shoved off at 10:30AM the sun starts to poke out - a good sign. The wind emerged with the sun but now it was pushing us and very much enjoyed as we proceed to the Rush Lake portage. The portage was not enhanced by the overnight downpour. As we make our wind assisted way down Rush, we see that the campsite on the point is still occupied by the same group, so we cannot check it out by landing. The portage to Little Rush, as expected,is wetter and deeper, but finally done. As we begin our paddle down Little Rush, a young couple quickly come up behind us and ask if we know where the portage into Skipper Lake starts. Now being a seasoned tripper I replied "Your on it", my bow partner gives me a glance that I must admit to having seen before. As we paddle into Skipper they thank us, but stay behind, which is odd as they are definitely lighter and faster than us. As we approach the lone campsite, I take a wide turn to a hopefully better landing than the one below the firegrate. I look over, make eye contact and when the young lady asks "are you staying here?", I quickly realize why they stayed behind as they could easily have overtaken us. I replied, "Yes we are, but since this site is the only one and the portage out is long, do you want to share it for the evening". They agreed, it would be great. We found separate tent pads and each party set up camp; we both had tents and gear that needed to dry out. We finally get around to introducing ourselves - they are Amber and Jerry from Wisconsin, they are in a new Wenonah Jensen kevlar racer. As I admired the craft, Amber added that she worked for a canoe shop and this was it's maiden voyage. It is refreshing to see young people who are unselfish (they could have easily passed us and claimed the site) and knowledgeable about tripping. They had come up from Long Island Lake and Amber had tweaked her knee with the wet portaging and was hoping to rest it before the long portage out. We were very pleased to have accommodated. Since there was a fire ban still in effect (why now, we will never understand) there was no need to congregate around the firegrate and we each kept to our established areas to respect the privacy that we cherish in the BWCAW. As things dried nicely we are sent to our tent and bed early as another storm comes in and it begins to rain and thunder once again.
We awake to the sun but everything is wet. I sacrifice my Walleye fishing to tend to getting things dried out; no I haven't messed up my priorities, I just feel it may not be worth the time fishing without leeches. We have a quick breakfast of granola bars and coffee and begin to pack up, when Jerry and Amber come over to say goodbye. We wish them luck with the portage and they are off, boy could they make that canoe go. We ended packing some items wet as the skies were darkening in the distance. We push off and quickly get to the portage from Skipper to Poplar Lake and begin the final walk. Raspberries are still abundant and I cannot help but take some as I pass them by. We finish this portage in just under 1.5 hours and as we sit for a snack before we take off on Poplar Lake. However we notice the darkening clouds and hear a distant rumble of thunder. Motivation has been provided and we quickly pack the canoe and move fast. About 25 minutes later we pull onto our outfitters beach, take the packs up onto the porch and the rain starts. I go back to secure the canoe and run onto the porch as hail begins to fall, it actually begins to collect on the ground and 30 minutes later it is over. We were glad to have beaten it in. Mike sees us and comes over and is pleased to hear everything went well. I applaud his choice of tent for its waterproof floor. He was pleased, said it was an outfitters model, used often over the last 3 years and has good luck with them. I added that I was pleased with the Souris River Quetico, it preformed well, was stable and tracked into the wind nicely. Lin arrived and quickly filled us in on Jeff's (Monnster)mishap (see his trip report). We were very disappointed for him but quite pleased he made it home OK. Subsequently, we were pleased to hear that he will be able to have the shoulder repaired and should be back in the BWCAW next year. We take our showers, get into clean cloths and say thanks and goodbye to Mike and Lin. It is now off to Grand Marais for two days of sightseeing and to discuss plans for next year's trip. We enjoy Grand Marais, it is quaint, picturesque and a lot to see. We enjoy Sven & Ollies, The Wild Onion, Angry Trout and espically The Gunflint Tavern - they all lived up to expectations. For us the Harbor Inn was the perfect place to stay and walk to every place we wished to see. The feel of Grand Marais is different than Ely, as Ely has a feel of a lot of summer guests who are there for awhile. Grand Marias has the feel of vacationers who are around for a briefer period of time. Its location on the lake makes it a special place. We agree that we like both and appreciate the unique experiences they offer.
Post Trip Reflection
1. I admired what Corsair did in his trip report of 8/18, recognizing members for tripping tips he found and used. I wish to copy it, except I run the risks of not mentioning those tips given long before to the proper member, sorry.
2. Have now rented and paddled 3 popular 17' tandem kevlar canoe's. I rate them as follows: A. Wenonah - Boundary Waters B. Souris River - Quetico C. Wenonah - Spirit II. They were all solid performers and all handled the load and were stable fishing platforms. I would be pleased to own any of the three. They are so close in performance that I would allow price to dictate which one I would purchase - where is the DEAL. If speed (a relative term in a canoe , I realize) is a concern then there are faster hulls to be sure, but stability and waves caused by wind can affect many canoeist comfort level.
3. I enjoy maps and have used both Fisher and McKenzie on our 1ST trip and found them comparable in accuracy but preferred the scale and color of the Fisher. The last two trips I added the new Voyageur map which became available and have found them more to my liking. I understand why many stay with a particular map company after years of getting accustomed to them. Familiarity with a map is a great tool. I have not been going to the BWCAW long enough to form a map preferance based on years of use. Voyageur is my preferred map, so far, better accuracy - not perfect, just better overall. I like the website feature that we can offer/report changes, inaccuracies or mistakes. Although, I still bring all three with me, it is the Voyageur I follow in the map case.